Over the past several decades, teenage drug abuse and addiction has been a significant concern for parents, health professionals and lawmakers. While teen drug use continues to make headline news, there are signs that times are changing. Recently, the National Institute of Health (NIH) released the results from this year’s Monitoring the Future survey, and the survey is showing that overall drug use among teenagers has held steady and even showed signs of decline. These latest results are seen by researchers as a continuation of an overall two-decade trend in decreasing drug use among teens.
What is the Monitoring the Future Survey?
The Monitoring the Future Survey is funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The survey, which is conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan, was started in 1975 and is considered the benchmark by which all teen drug use surveys are measured. It surveys 40,000 to 50,000 students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades across the United States about their use of substances such as alcohol and tobacco as well as illicit and prescription drugs.
What Were This Year’s Findings?
Among the biggest findings from this year’s survey is that marijuana use among teenagers has slightly decreased over the past two years. In the past year, marijuana use among students has decreased from 26 percent in 2012 to 24 percent this year. While researchers point out that the overall percentage of marijuana use remains high in this age group, it appears that prevention and treatment efforts may be helping reverse that trend.
The gradual decline in marijuana use among teenagers has been seen as a direct result of the implementation of the nation’s first marijuana legalization laws. Those laws, adopted by Colorado and Washington in 2012, specifically state that legalization of marijuana applies to individuals 21 years of age and older. Additionally, these laws contain built-in safeguards that restrict sales to minors. Additionally, initiatives to legalize marijuana have been passed by voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C.
The legalization initiatives passed in these states has increased more open communication concerning the use of marijuana and its effects. According to Marsha Rosenbloom of the Drug Policy Alliance:
“Now that the national conversation about marijuana is ‘above ground,’ parents and teachers are able have honest conversations with teens based on sound science, health, and safety. The declines in use revealed in MTF may well indicate that teens are listening, and choosing to make wise decisions.”
Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, stated:
“States are legalizing marijuana, Congress is debating and enacting drug policy reform, and teen drug use rates are declining – this is not a coincidence…Young people respond well to frank, honest conversations about drugs and drug use. The less taboo talking about drugs becomes the more successful prevention efforts will be.”
The survey also shows the decrease in the use of other substances. For example, there has been a significant decrease in past month alcohol use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Additionally, there has been a noted decrease in the percentage of high school seniors who reported binge drinking in the past month. The most recent survey shows the percentage rate of binge drinking among high school seniors is below 20 percent, which is compared to 31.5 percent that was reported in 1998.
The survey’s findings also showed a decrease in both prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse among teenagers. The current findings show that 6.1 percent of high school seniors reported abusing narcotics other than heroin in the past year, which is compared with 7.1 percent a year ago and 9.5 percent that was reported in 2004. It was also reported that Vicodin use for non-medical use among 12th graders was at 4.8 percent, half of what it was just five years ago, at 9.7 percent. Additionally, researchers have also noted the diminished abuse of inhalants as well as diminished abuse of over-the-counter drugs like cough syrups. And although synthetic cannabinoids like “K2” and “Spice” have only been tracked in the survey for the past couple of years, use of these drugs have decreased in the past year.
There are Still Concerns
While the findings of this year’s Monitoring the Future survey are showing an overall decrease in drug use among teens, researchers have found that teenagers’ perceptions regarding the risk associated with marijuana use have become more lenient. While marijuana use among teenagers has slightly decreased over the past couple of years, there also has been a steady increase in the percentage of teens who believe marijuana is not harmful. These perceptions could be linked to the drug’s greater visibility and the continued public debates over legalization and its possible uses as medicine.
Additionally, it has been reported that an increasing number of teen marijuana users are taking the drug in edible form, and especially in states where medical marijuana is legal. The study reports that 40 percent of 12th graders who had used marijuana in the past year in medical marijuana states reported having consumed it in an edible form, versus 26 percent for those teenagers that live in non-medical marijuana states. While the results of this most recent survey are encouraging, parents need to continue to be vigilant in regards to drug use and abuse with their teens.
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Drugs and alcohol severely impact the physical and mental development of teenagers that can have lasting impacts through their adult years. If you are a parent of a teenager who struggles with substance abuse issues, PBI offers quality adolescent alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs that are specifically tailored to meet the unique and special needs of adolescents aged 13-17. The experienced treatment staff at PBI employ a multidisciplinary approach to create treatment plans that best fit each individual. Call PBI today and start your teenager on the road to recovery.
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